Planners have recommended approval of shale gas plans at Tinker Lane in north Nottinghamshire, subject to a legal agreement and 52 conditions.
The IGas subsidiary, Dart Energy (East Midlands) Ltd, is proposing to drill an exploration well at the site between Barnby Moor and Blyth.
The well will take core samples of rocks and carry out tests. The application does not include plans to frack. It does seek consent for groundwater monitoring boreholes and retrospective permission for security cabins that have been on the site since October 2015.
A decision on the proposal will be made by Nottinghamshire County Council’s planning committee at a meeting on Tuesday 21 March 2017.
The meeting is expected to hear from Dart Energy along with Blyth and Torworth parish councils, Tinker Lane Community Group and the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas.
DrillOrDrop will be reporting with live updates from the committee meeting.
The proposed site, on the A634, is 1.5km from the centre of Torworth, 2.4km from Ranskill and 3km from Blyth. The proposed site would be 2.2ha. The nearest home is 630m away and the A1(M) is 1.1km. It is in the exploration licence area PEDL200, operated by Dart in partnership with INEOS Shale.
A 200-page planners’ report to the committee, published yesterday (13/3/2017), concluded:
“Consideration has been given to impacts relating to traffic and transport; heritage; noise and vibration; ecology; lighting; visual impact, landscape character; ground and surface water; contamination; flood risk; air quality; rights of way; socio-economic impacts; public health; climate change and cumulative impacts.
“All have been assessed as being acceptable, or as not being significant and outweighed by the great weight and support that is given to this type of development.”
The following organisations said they had no objection to the scheme: HSE, Nottinghamshire County Council’s reclamation, landscape, flood risk management, built heritage, archaeology and conservation teams; the Coal Authority; Natural England; Public Health England; Highways England; Finningley Airport; National Air Traffic Services; Netherthrope Airfield; Severn Trent Water.
The Coal Authority said there were no records of deep mine or opencast coal mining in the area. The Environment Agency (EA) has issued a permit for the site and said it was satisfied there would be no effects on air quality if drilling were limited to four months. It said the site should be subject to conditions on construction, drainage and disposal of foul sewage. Natural England, said it believed no Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) would be affected.
The following organisations objected: Bassetlaw District Council; parish councils for Babworth, Blyth, Barnby Moor, Sutton and Torworth;. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust; CPRE; Frack Free Nottinghamshire; Nottingham Friends of the Earth; Friends of the Earth; Bassetlaw Against Fracking,
Local surveys found 75% of residents of Barnby Moor and 89% of Sutton opposed the plans. Opposition in Barnby Moor was mainly about increased traffic.
There were 797 comments on the application, of which 793 were objections. There was also a petition against the development with 2,869 names.
The industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, supported the application, as did East Midlands Chamber.
Key issues (listed alphabetically)
Objections to the application raised concerns about dust and emissions of ozone, particulates, volatile organic compounds, hydrocarbons, radon, nitrogen dioxide and venting and flaring of ozone. Torworth Parish Council asked for continuous air quality monitoring. Frack Free Nottinghamshire said Dart had not assessed the impact of air pollution and dust on Mattersey Hill Marsh SSSI. Friends of the Earth and others said if drilling took place over 12 months then nitrogen deposition would exceed critical loads and recommended a condition to prevent this.
The EA said the largest emissions would be from vehicles and generators which were not be covered by the environmental permit. The EA says there would be no venting or flaring of methane as part of the development.
The planners report’ concluded that the site would not create or exacerbate existing air quality problems and emissions would be within acceptable levels.
Breaches of planning permission
There were complaints that Dart had breached planning controls at Tinker Lane by erecting cabins and equipment without planning permission. Some opponents pointed to beaches at other local sites operated by Dart Energy.
The planners report said:
“The MPA strongly disapproves of the approach taken by the applicant in siting cabins without planning permission. However, if the development is an acceptable use of the land, the fact that there is currently unauthorised development is not a reason to refuse planning permission.”
The report added that breaches at other sites could not be taken into account.
Some opponents argued that shale gas was worse than coal for greenhouse gas emissions because of methane leaks. Some said shale gas should be considered incompatible with the legal requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The planners’ report acknowledged that Dart had not considered greenhouse gas emissions or climate change impacts. It added:
“It is acknowledged that there is little information available on emissions associated with exploration. However, the climate change emissions associated with this development are expected to be limited primarily to those from vehicles and drilling equipment which are temporary, considered to be generally small, and are not deemed to be significant. From an emissions perspective the development is not contrary to policy or planning guidance.”
Some opponents argued that the shale gas site would add to the impacts from other new developments in the area, including a large logistics project at Harworth, a solar farm, future minerals workings, a landfill site and an anaerobic digester.
The planners report concluded:
“The proposed development would not result in any significant cumulative impacts and is in accordance with the relevant policies”
Objections to the application said bird and bat surveys should have been undertaken. They said reptiles were known to use the area but none had been recorded in a survey and amphibians were under-reported in the application. The botanical survey, carried out in September, underestimated floral counts, they said.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was concerned about impacts of noise and light on nearby SSSIs and Local Wildlife Sites (LWS). It said there were no details of mitigation or controls on changes to groundwater levels or quality. The trust added:
“This information is important in order to ascertain the risk of detrimental effects occurring on these important wetland sites and should be included in the application”.
It asked for more information on where Best Available Techniques had been used in what it called “such fractured and unpredictable geology”.
The Trust and Frack Free Nottinghamshire were not satisfied that an adequate Water Framework Directive assessment had been undertaken about the effect of the development on the River Idle. This meant the application did not comply with five local planning policies and three paragraphs of the National Planning Policy Framework.
On emissions, the planners conceded that the proposal would exceed the 24-hour nitrogen oxide critical level at the Tinker Lane LWS for a worst case scenario of peak power generation at the site and peak traffic movements. Dart said the worst case scenario would not occur and that on more realistic figures the 24-hour NOx figures would not have a significant effect on the wildlife site. The planners said they were:
“satisfied that there would not be an unacceptable impact on any designated ecological sites as a result of air quality, provided that drilling is limited to four months”.
The report said the impacts of dust would not be significant and the risk of spillage would be adequately mitigated. The planners added that Natural England was satisfied that there would not be an impact on water levels at Mattersey Hill Marsh SSSI.
They said noise would not affect Mattersey SSSI or Daneshill LWS. They conceded that noise during construction would be up to 65dB at Tinker Lane LWS. But they said noise levels would not affect plants, for which the site was designated.
The report conceded there were concerns about the effect of noise and light on tawny owl, kestrel and buzzard. But it said these birds had not been identified by Dart in its summary of protected or notable species and were not raised by council ecologists. It concluded that noise and light would not have a significant impact on foraging or commuting bats and that the intensively managed farmland did not represent a suitable habitat for toads.
The report concluded:
“The proposed development, with mitigation measures in place, would not have an unacceptable impact on any ecologically designated site, protected species or species of conservation concern.”
Dart has said the site could add to knowledge about the potential to produce shale gas and this would lead to longer term economic benefits for the area.
Some objectors said the site would damage local businesses. But the planners’ report concluded:
“There may be some impact on leisure and tourism arising from moderate visual impact but it is not considered significant and would be temporary.
“There may be some economic benefit to local business from supply chain spend and the presence of workers spending money in the area, although this spend is unlikely to be significant and would be for a temporary period. Nevertheless, the NPPF is clear that great weight should be given to this.”
There were concerns about the viability of IGas, Dart Energy’s parent company, and whether the site would be restored if it went out of business.
The planners’ report said a bond to secure restoration, as part of a Section 106 agreement, could be justified because of ongoing concerns about Dart’s liquidity. It said the council had no powers to require partner companies to restore the site. The report concluded:
“Given the ongoing financial issues for a restoration bond to be applied to the surface level aspects of the development, to ensure removal of the well pad and infrastructure, and the return of the site to agriculture. In this respect the MPA is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances to warrant seeking a financial guarantee for surface level restoration only.”
Opponents of the scheme raised a wide range of concerns about health, including impacts of noise, dust, emissions, water contamination, light pollution and stress.
The planners’ report said Public Health England had no significant concerns. The report concluded that the development would not result in an unacceptable impact on public heath but it acknowledged there was a public perception that adverse impacts were possible.
“Such a perception could result in increased anxiety for people in the surrounding area, which may cause or exacerbate anxiety related health issues. It is recognised that fear and anxiety about possible health impacts is capable of being a material consideration.”
A total of 19 listed buildings or monuments would be potentially affected by the proposal. Historic England, in its objection, said information in the application was too limited in demonstrating impacts on heritage.
The planners’ report concluded that harm to an ancient field system and the setting of the listed buildings was outweighed by the general benefits of mineral extraction and the “pressing need” set out in Planning Practice Guidance on minerals to establish whether there are sufficient recoverable quantities of unconventional hydrocarbons.
Landscape and recreation
The impact on the landscape was assessed by Dart as moderate adverse for the operational phase and negligible-slight beneficial change after final restoration. According to the application, six viewpoints would experience a moderate adverse effect.
Frack Free Nottinghamshire disagreed with the impact assessment. Public comments said the site was on elevated land and the 60m drill rig would be highly visible. It was argued that the application was contrary to local polices DM1 (economic development in the countryside) and DM4 (design and character).
The planners’ report said the drill rig would be present for no more than four months and the remainder of the development for no more than three years. The report said:
“In terms of the overall landscape effect there would be a slight impact which is not significant as the effects are adverse during the operational phases with no change to the baseline after restoration.”
As a result, the report said, the proposal did not breach planning policy.
Objectors to the application complained that lighting would be intrusive to residents and wildlife.
The planners’ report acknowledge there would be some visual impact but that light levels would not result in significant harm and light spill would be within acceptable levels.
Long term plans
Bassetlaw Against Fracking said it was “disingenuous” not to consider longer-term consequences of allowing exploration. CPRE called on Dart to clarify its long-term plans for the site, including the number of wells and how much fracking would be needed in future. Public objections suggested the application would set a precedent which would make refusals of fracking more difficult. Nottingham Friends of the Earth said multiple additional boreholes could require continuous drilling for a number of years and result in long-term industrialisation of the site.”
The planners responded:
“Fracking forms no part of this application and the proposals have been assessed on their own merits”.
Bassetlaw’s environmental health team recommended no increase in noise levels at nearby properties above the measured background levels at day and night. Blyth Parish Council was also concerned about 24-hour drilling noise. Torworth Parish Council asked for continuous noise monitoring.
CPRE said 24-hour working could result in sleep disturbance and increased stress. It called for independent verification of the noise assessments. Frack Free Nottinghamshire was concerned about the impact on birds and bats using the nearby plantation and hedgerows, where noise would reach 70dB.
The county council’s noise experts said the proposals were acceptable on condition that night time noise at the nearest home was no more than 42dB and the daytime limit of 55dB was not exceeded. If these limits were breached mitigation should be implemented, the experts said.
The planners’ report said:
“Night time noise levels would be exceeded at two of the residential receptors (Beech Farm and Jubilee Farm). However, the existing baseline noise already exceeds night time noise criteria at these locations, and the additional noise from the proposed development is considered imperceptible. Noise at other times is within acceptable limits.”
On vibration, the report added that a proposed restriction on vertical seismic testing to daylight hours would not be an appropriate condition. It said HGV movements visiting the site would not result in “adverse vibration”.
Bassetlaw District Council and Frack Free Nottinghamshire said the application should (but did not) include 3D seismic testing, given the number of historic coal mines in the area. Babworth, Blyth, Sutton and Torworth parish councils raised concerns about the effect of high pressure testing on old mine workings and sinkholes. It said permission should be refused until a scientific survey was carried out on the risk of subsidence. Torworth Parish Council said there should be surveys of local properties to distinguish between any old and new damage that might occur.
The planners report concluded:
“The MPA [Mineral Planning Authority] is satisfied that there are no ground conditions or land instability, from natural hazards or former activities such as mining or pollution arising from previous uses which would make the site unsuitable for development.”
Some objectors were concerned that Dart had not adequately justified why it chose the Tinker Lane site. The planners’ report said officers were satisfied that Dart had met this requirement in its Environmental Statement.
The planners report said the site would generate a maximum of 56 vehicle movements/day (28 in and 28 out), 36 of which would be HGVs. This would happen for a period of seven weeks during construction and another seven weeks during restoration.
Opponents of the scheme complained there was not enough information about the impact of HGVs on nearby villages, including traffic hazards to other road users, dust, noise, vibration, air pollution and damage to verges. They said there was also no designated traffic route or details of how traffic would be managed.
There were concerns that the new access onto the A634 would have a detrimental impact on traffic, affecting both the A634 and the A1. It was on a blind bend that had been the scene of accidents, opponents said. The access would also significantly increase traffic, particularly HGVs, in Blyth. Some opponents called for detailed traffic modelling which took account of a major industrial warehouse development in Blyth. There were also calls for a reduced speed limit and diversion routes in case of closures of the A1.
The planners said the existing road network had sufficient capacity to accommodate the level of traffic generated by the site. They quoted Highways England which said the development would have a “negligible impact” and make no material change to Strategic Road Network.
The report to the committee said appropriate visibility splays at the site entrance were achievable and a reduced speed limit was not necessary. Dart had said lorries visiting the site would not drive past a primary school at pick-up and drop-off times.
The report concluded there would be no significant traffic impacts and the cumulative impacts were not severe. There was no justification to refuse the development on transport grounds. But it proposed a Section 106 agreement to ensure vehicles visiting the site did not use unapproved routes.
Dart said it would carry out monitoring of groundwater before any work was carried out, during the operation and afterwards. But Torworth Parish Council asked for independent testing of water at the nearest existing borehole before work started.
The EA said the volume of the bunded compound should be at least equivalent to the capacity of oil or chemical tanks plus 10%. All filling points, vents, gauges and sight glasses must be within the bund. There should be no discharge to any watercourse, land or underground strata.
The planners’ report concluded there was no unacceptable risk to surface or groundwater and no significant risk of flooding.
The planners have recommended 52 conditions. They include a Section 106 agreement to be signed by 21 May 2017 requiring
- Designated route for all heavy goods vehicles using the site
- Driver code of conduct
- Financial bond for surface level restoration of the site
- Liaison group for the life of the development
Other conditions include:
- Drilling phase limited to four months
- No HGV journeys past St Mary and St Martin Primary School in Blyth from 8am-9am and 5pm-4pm
- HGV movements capped at 60 per day (30 in and 30 out) or 198 (99 in and 99 out) in any seven day period.
- Controls on lighting, noise, emissions, dust, surface water contamination
- Rules for noise monitoring
- No start to construction, drilling or restoration during the bird breeding season (March-August) unless a breeding Hobby survey has been carried out
- No site clearance involving removal or destruction of vegetation during the bird breeding season unless approved by the planning department
- Scheme for disposal of foul drainage approved by the county council